Monthly Archives: July 2010

Inception: The spoiler free review

Everything they say about Inception, the new film from writer/director Christopher Nolan, is true. All of it. Even the negative stuff.

Joseph Gordon-levitt as Arthur.

It’s a film that goes as far as it wants, and it keeps you riveted for a sprawling 150 or so minutes. It’s the work of a man who has experience dealing in mysteries, be it his breakout hit Memento or the magic of The Prestige, and Inception trumps them all in scope and sheer imagination.

Most impressively is just the fact that this movie will have people talking, really talking, not only about dreams but about the film, the portrayal of what is for us, our most personal realm. You won’t see Iron Man 2 or Knight and Day springing up real discussion. And thank goodness Nolan gave us an adult film this summer, we almost had to abide on cartoon toys for maturity.

Just take a look at this trailer. I have nothing more to add to that. Go see this one in the theaters. And yes, you are safe. Inception is NOT in 3D!

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Character Study: Five Easy Pieces

Released in 1970, Five Easy Pieces is a film of it’s time, with a protagonist as difficult to like as he is fascinating to watch. Of course, from the poster you can tell this protagonist is played by Jack Nicholson, and this is one of his earliest films, following a breakout role in the previous year’s Easy Rider.

In Five Easy Pieces, Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, an oil rig gruff somewhere in the southwest. He lives with his waitress girlfriend Rayette and slums around with his buddy Elton. He’s a simple man, wants to be left alone for the most part and acts dismissively towards everyone, including Elton and Rayette. It’s obvious he doesn’t love her, but  it’s something the matter with him, not her. Bobby is a loner out on his own, trying to make a way for himself. He’s an isolationist and vehemently rejects his world and it’s expectations.

We learn that this oil rig man is actually a classically trained pianist with a wealthy background, but that he walked away from it all. After his buddy Elton has a run in with the law and his sister tells him of their ailing father, Bobby returns home to the northwest, dragging Rayette along out of some form of pity or self-loathing.

It’s odd that Bobby stays with Rayette at all and is one of the more difficult aspects of the film, he’s just kind of a dick to her. You wonder if he is trying to punish or hurt her in a way, like his way to control her is to leave her in this lowly suspended state. I feel for Rayette the most in this film (played wonderfully by Karen Black, who received an Oscar nomination btw).

Bobby just never lets anyone get close, he never lets down his tough guy exterior, almost as if underneath he more fragile than he dares admit to even himself. But at the same time, it’s impossible to totally sympathize with him because he is so cold. It’s a really provocative duality that at once attracts and repeals the audience in a way few films can, and roof that Jack Nicholson was always a genius for being able to pull it off so well.

While on the road, they take on a couple of riders who broke down. In these scenes we glimpse Bobby’s personal disdain for society, for rules and restrictions. His riders talk of the terribleness of mankind and the problems of the world, and Bobby stays quiet. It doesn’t bother him. But when he can’t get some simple toast at the diner, watch out. He goes on a tear not unlike something Holden Caulfield would spout.

After seeing this film a second time, I was struck by just how funny this movie really is. Nicholson rants some great speeches and slings some classic insults. Most of the supporting characters are  a little odd, especially at the family home, making for lighter moments around the dramatic stuff. It’s another balance the film keeps, not letting either get too much a hold of you, never letting you completely relax either. Five Easy Pieces commands attention at all times, even the seemingly mundane moments.

At the family home, Bobby ditches Rayette at a motel and goes up to the estate alone. There his sister Partita and brother  Carl live with their ailing and mute father, his male nurse Spicer (dude is classic), and Carl’s piano student Catherine. Bobby instantly pursues Catherine while constantly belittling Carl, who is obviously unaffected by his brother’ bullying, and also vaguely avoiding the real reason he is there.

It’s all so childish to a point, like Bobby has stepped into his old life. There is even a scene where he plays Catherine a piece on the piano by Chopin, one she finds moving but he does not. He only played it because it was the first piece he ever learned and the easiest to play (cough*title reference*cough). Scenes like this throughout the film just paint such a vivid picture of this man, showing us rather than having to explain. It’s superbly done cinema.

Only at the end of his stay, Bobby finally has that heart to heart with the old man. He tries to apologize for his actions without really acknowledging their affects. It’s a strange monologue, one where where we can literally see Bobby’s exterior crumbling ever so briefly before he regains his composure. It’s heartbreaking, not only because of it’s brutal honesty and emotion, but because it’s not really the resolution that either man needs.

At the end, little has changed. Bobby is still alone in his own head. The world  and everyone is still full of Shit. He leaves the family and eventually Rayette in one last heart-wrenching scene that has to be seen to be felt. I won’t go into it now, but it cements his character in your mind.

Now, back in 1970, when this film came out, there was a lot of anger and a lot of resentment in the air. The 60’s were over, things were getting depressing and people felt like this, all of this around us, was crap. Five Easy Pieces is the expression of all that contempt. It’s about rejecting your status, your daily grind, everything around you that you know is crap.

At the end of it all, Bobby will still be moving along, not because he’s searching for something, but because he’s “getting away from things that get bad if I stay.” Sometimes though, it feels like all he’s really rejecting is responsibility. And that is the conflict that the film brilliantly presents us.

If you’ve never seen this film, watch it. It’s slow at times, it talks a lot, but it’s genuine and real. You may not like Bobby Dupea when it’s all over, but you’ll never forget him.

-Charlie

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Harvey Pekar, 1939-2010

Underground comic writer and all around gloomy guy Harvey Pekar died this morning at his home in Cleveland. He was 70 years old.

Pekar was a regular everyman working as a file clerk and collecting Jazz records, until a fateful friendship with the artist Robert Crumb gave way to Pekar’s brilliantly off-beat cult favorite American Splendor comic books.

Realizing that comics could tell real stories, written for adults, and writing what he knew about best, himself, Pekar created the  autobiographical style that paved the way for today’s slew of memoir and non-fiction comic book writers and artists.

Pekar endured a brief celebrity status in the 1980’s, but always rejected the offers for bigger money, never wanting to become co-opted or to sacrifice his integrity for anyone else.

Pekar continued to work as a file clerk until his retirement. He always wrote about his own life, even chronicling his battle with lymphatic cancer in 1990’s Our Cancer Year.

In 2003, the film American Splendor introduced me and a whole generation of kids too young to watch Letterman in the 80’s to Pekar’s honest and scathing perspective on ordinary life. He was a one of a kind and I bet even Dave will miss the old guy.

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